Tel Aviv Diary July 15, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - July 15 - 29 , 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

July 15, 2005

I know very few people (of any religion) around here who do not go to a wedding at least once a season, if not once a week.

Nothing like a good wedding to put things in proportion.

And we Jews don't miss a chance to try, to make a lesson of it, do we. To remind ourselves that we're not individuals, but part of a whole network with a lot of strings attached.

Look at those seven blessings, for example, the ones that get read at each Jewish wedding.

The first three are about God's power, then the purpose of everything (for God), then the position on the individual: 1. Praised are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who created the fruit of the vine. 2. Praised are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of all things for Your glory. 3. Praised are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of man.

Then continuing to move from the general to the specific, and the whole centrality of mating in the Divine scheme of things: 4. Praised are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who created man and woman in Your image, designing woman from man as his mate, so they may perpetuate life. Praised are You, O Lord, Creator of man.

Ignore the gender slant here - think of the incredible responsibility this blessing puts on a couple.

Then it emerges that in getting married, this couple are not only fulfilling God's purpose, but also that of the Jewish people. It's like it's an automatic national marriage to their 5. May Zion rejoice as her children are restored to her in joy. Praised are You, O Lord, Who causes Zion to rejoice at her children's return.

And only now do we start moving to the issue at hand:

6. Grant perfect joy to these partners in love, as You did to the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden. Praised are You, O Lord, who grants the joy of bride and groom.

Then we put it all together - the joy of the couple intertwined with the joy of the land:

7. Praised are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created joy and gladness, bride and groom, joy, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony, peace and companionship. O Lord our God, may there ever be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness, voices of bride and groom, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Praised are You, O Lord, Who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride

Now I am very sensitive to weddings. Look at this old poem of mine from Ignorant Armies that gives evidence to it.


Confined to the couch by a bad back,

I watch Israel TV with my son.

There is an Arabic program on

and we slowly learn that the man

at the final fitting for a suit

("Mabrouk, Jamil!") and the woman

showing her new dress to her best friend

("Mabrouk, Azziza!") are getting married.

We watch the men come in to shave the groom,

the women warm the bride with dance and song,

the separate dinners with ululations.

More congratulations, then:

the two groups bring the couple to the square.

And when Azziza and Jamil look at each other,

slowly, shyly - I begin to cry.

I always cry at chasenes

Chasene is the Yiddish word for Chatuna, or wedding, and i bring all the sentimentality of my childhood language in this reaction to a wedding of people whose language i do not know and with whom i am not acquainted. In this poem I understand the word Mabrouk which means blessed in Arabic just because I understand the concept of wedding as blessed.

Now what happens to the concept of "blessed" if, like me, you don't really think of the existence of the Divinity? Doesn't matter. The actual Divinity is not my business. And as for believing in marriage, I've been married twice, so the absoluteness of the ceremony must also come into question. Doesn't matter. I still cry.

July 16, 2005

Whoo! Did I get sentimental yesterday - And here I was going to talk about how much I love/hate Israeli weddings - how much I eat, dance, get deaf from the volume... that's what happens when you write on line.

Spent Friday morning in south Tel Aviv. Spices in Levinsky Market, window shopping with all the fashion-hungry Arab and Jewish women, conversations with the shopkeepers on Herzl Street. The big heat wave has eased so the street is pleasant, and the hard times some of the shopkeepers talk about, don't seem in evidence. But the place doesn't look good. A slow fire in a second floor factory destroyed at least half of the building off of Levinsky Street and now the second half has to be torn down. All the structures are two or three floors high around there, shabby, but with an old-fashioned dignity that is begging to be revitalized.

They're not high because they were built before Ezi's grandfather brought the system of reinforced concrete to Israel, before the Bauhaus, and this limitation gives a human size to the neighborhood, a proper proportion between person and building, that makes me feel at home.

But it's not cost effective, right? It's just human.

July 17, 2005

I've been trying out a new regime - no news - no newspapers, minimum tv news, no phone calls (especially those demanding help), no special favors, minimum impersonal interaction - it's just like being abroad. What am I running away from? Its not just all that news over which I have no control but all the responsibility. It's everything. Let's see. In the past five hours there were four messages on my machine left by a poet who wants to read his latest creation, two messages by people who got my number from the foreign office (they say) asking for information about english writing, and someone i don't know who wants me to find her a publisher. I didn't answer because I was busy translating some poetry from Hebrew, even though the answering machine became more and more accusing. But when my doorbell rang i responded. It was a strange neighbor who wanted a sleeping pill.

Nothing is private and nothing is impersonal around here. We even had a problem this evening when we were walking the dog and Ezi was suddenly made aware that he was wearing an orange shirt.

June 18, 2005

An article in today's Ha'aretz by the wonderful Michal Palti about how orange is out has inspired me to design a few iron-on stickers on my orange t-shirts. "Just Orange," "Free Orange From Politics," "Not a Symbolic Color," "My T-Shirt is Beyond Politics." I'm doing them tonight and will wear one tomorrow. Anybody with me? "Tzeva meshuchrar lo yuchzar!" or " a color once liberated shall not be returned"

A typical example of Israel today. Last night on the news on channel 10, after the standard violence (Arabs-Jews, Jews-Jews, Jews-Arabs, Terrorists-Americans etc.), there is a little scene about the artist who does nude crowds, and the filming of a nude crowd scene today in the cold of England. The footage ends, the newscaster Guy Zohar comes on, says "shrinkage," and goes on to the next item. I am left breathless, because I swallowed my saliva laughing and can't stop choking. All right, you have to be a Seinfeld fan, and remember the scene where George is caught by a girl with his pants down after coming out of the Atlantic, and as she is fleeing he calls after her, "shrinkage!" to remind her that penises contract in the cold. And most people would not have caught that one word on the news. But we did. Just as on the news on channel 11 today, we noticed that Karen Neubach -- is interviewing Dr. General Yom Tov Samia about some of the crises in the Disengagement -- sporting a very interesting cleavage.

Yes, you get it, I am back getting the news directly to the vein, an addict to the death. But I'm putting everything into proportion...

I mean an ironic proportion, of course, because if I take it straight, how can i sleep at night? Look at Shiekh Ibrahim Mudeiris' speech in May about the Jews. And then some of thr quotes from indoctrinated-at-birth extremist Jewish children. It's enough to scare you to death.

Better to watch the cleavage of the anchorwoman.

June 19, 2005

We are watching a very heated argument on TV for and against the disengagement. Moti tells an illustrative story about this. Last night, as he was coming home, there was a bunch of religious people, obviously gathering together to protest the disengagement. He went into his apartment and shut the door to get away from it. A few minutes later he heard a banging on his door, and he realized it must be the protesters, coming to convince him to join them, so he didn't answer. The banging continued, on and on, for almost fifteen minutes, and he got more and more angry at the invasion of his privacy, at the invasion of his neighborhood, his way of life. Finally it was quiet, and after a few minutes he came out to see whether they had gone. On the door handle there was a flyer attached, a little booklet, and he pulled it off. But as he was about to throw it out, he suddenly felt something solid woven into the back of the flyer. It was his key - the key he left in the lock when he came home.

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